What’s at Stake: Babies First!

Oregon’s dead-last corporate taxes have left our state facing a long list of deep and devastating cuts this session. Oregonians, young and old, from Pendleton to Medford to Portland, will be hurt. You’ve probably heard about some of the most egregious cuts: 350,000 Oregonians will lose their health care, class sizes will grow again as 3,000 teachers could be laid off, and mental health and addiction services will be reduced. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In this ongoing series, Behind the Budget, we will explore some of the critical but lesser known services facing cuts if corporations don’t pay their fair share in taxes.

Babies First!: The way a state cares for its most vulnerable speaks volumes about its values. Which is why it’s so upsetting to see Babies First! — a nurse home visitation program that protects infants at high risk of abuse, neglect, and death — on the chopping block. Babies First! literally saves infants’ lives in Oregon.

The $1.5 million the state dedicates to the program acts as seed money to encourage counties to invest in the program. Cutting this program will result in about 3,000 fewer home visits over the next two years, and those cuts will fall disproportionately in rural areas that don’t have the resources of larger metropolitan areas.

Several rural counties would likely end up cutting these program entirely, to the detriment of at-risk kids. African American and Native American babies are already much more likely to die before the age of one than white children. And these cuts could worsen disparities in infant mortality in Oregon.

Legislators shouldn’t be cutting nurse home visiting programs — they should be expanding them. The most recent statewide assessment found only 18% of the pregnant women potentially in need are being served, while only 40% of young children in need are being helped by a home visiting program.

Infants with special health needs shouldn’t pay the cost to keep Oregon’s business taxes the lowest in the country.

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